It's fall. Which means the one sport that gets watched in our house is on, at least for a couple hours, every Sunday. And I don't mind, really. I enjoy watching football. I went to a high school with a football team that played better than most college teams and I'd be in denial if I didn't admit that when the wind turns colder and the leaves start turning brown, I start craving a little football time.
But now that my kids have been in sports and other people my age are bouncing their kids from practice to practice to practice, I'm starting to see a darker side to our nation's infatuation with sports.
First of all, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with playing sports. I think there are things that you can learn on a sports field that some kids can only learn in that way. And really enjoying playing a game, working together, pushing yourself physically and mentally are all great things. And there really is nothing wrong with enjoying sports on TV, as long as it's kept in its proper perspective. But our culture has turned sports into an idol to be worshiped and sadly enough, to the point where some Christians are not only putting sports before God, but are teaching their children to do the same.
As I've been thinking and praying on this topic, and personally, how much my family should be involved in sports, there have been a few messages that have come in loud and clear repeatedly.
1. Watching sports on TV is no different than watching reality TV.
There is nothing wrong with watching sports or reality TV, necessarily. But we need to realize that spending a whole day watching college football is no better spent than watching a whole day of an America's Next Top Model marathon or watching an entire season of Survivor.
Many people, Christians included, delude themselves into believing that sports or watching ESPN non-stop is somehow better than watching anything else. I've even heard well meaning Christians say things like, "Well, I need to stay well informed about sports because that will be the ice breaker in talking to someone about Christ."
If that is your justification, then you need to ask yourself three questions. The first is, "When was the last time a conversation about Christ genuinely started because you were talking about sports?" Second, "Was there any other way you could have broached the subject of Christ with the person?" And third, "Are you sure you aren't using sports as a way to avoid intimacy with other human beings?
The last one is probably the most problematic, but requires the most skill of introspection. How many people have you known that have talked to someone at the office every morning for ten years about sports scores or the game on TV the night before, but don't know the other person's spouse's name, doesn't know their kids' names, doesn't know the person's struggles or joys or disappointments? Sports has a strange way of keeping everything shallow. You never talk about who each other actually is. You are always talking about a third person entity. For most people I've observed, sports keeps them more separated than connected.
Maybe you asked yourself those three questions and you feel like watching sports really is critical to your walk with Christ. There isn't anything wrong with that, God made us all different, but make sure that is really the direction God is pointing you.
2. Make sure the time and energy devoted to sports is proportionate to how important it actually is.
For a Christian, this is especially important. Compare how many hours a week you spend consumed with sports, either watching them on TV, reading about them, taking your kids to sports practices or sitting through games, to how many hours you have prayed this week. Or cared for orphans and widows. Or read your bible.
This doesn't just apply to sports, but to any interest. While for me, sports doesn't tend to be an issue, I personally have to watch how much time I spend shopping verses how much time I spend with God. It's not that I buy a lot, but I spend a lot of time shopping around, researching, stockpiling necessities, etc. I actually stopped using coupons because the act of couponing was taking up too much time compared to the time I spent with God. But with an all consuming interest that is as socially mandated as sports, we need to especially be cautious of making sure what is important gets the most time and energy.
3. Make sure you are teaching your kids priorities about what is really important, not just by what you say, but by what you do and the choices you make.
Do your kids see you skipping church every Sunday during football season because you don't want to miss the 1:00 pm kickoff? Then they are going to have a hard time seeing church as a priority later in life.
Do your kids see you telling friends and neighbors that you're too busy to spend time with them or to help them, but then see you come in the house and plop yourself down in front of an entire day of NCAA basketball tournaments? Then they will have a hard time valuing relationships and serving other people.
Do your kids see that you consider taking them to practice and going to their games as quality family time? Then they are going to have trouble understanding how to have quality time with their own kids.
Again, this one doesn't just apply to sports (such as, does your kid see you come home every day and need a beer to unwind from work? Then they will have trouble knowing how to unwind from a hard day without alcohol!). But so many people worship the almighty sports God in the name of family time and "providing opportunities for their kids", that you really have to look at the messages you are sending. One of the scariest bible verses for parents is, "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6) It is worth the honest and prayerful self-reflection to see what messages your children may be picking up from you.
4. There is no reason to make your children miserable. God has made them into specific individuals with specific gifts, talents and interests. Prayerfully involve your children in sports and do not exploit them.
Ephesians 6:4 says, " Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Fathers, and mothers, are you exasperating your children by putting them in sports or pressuring them to perform? Do you have them constantly bouncing from fall sports, to winter sports, to spring sports and then to sports camps in the summer because that is who God made them to be, or because you are exploiting your child by trying to make them into something that brings you glory instead of God? Does your child have fun playing sports occasionally, but becomes miserable when they have a weekend long tournament that is all softball all the time (which was the case with my sister)? Do you neglect exposing your kids to other things they may have interests or talents in, such as music, art, science camps, etc., because of your own personal preference toward sports? Make sure you are honoring God's beautiful creation He has entrusted you with and not trying to force your child into something God did not intend for them to be.
Under this same heading of putting undue pressure on your child, there is one comment/justification I heard over and over when I had my kids in basketball last year (and I think it is all the more ridiculous because the kids were FIVE and SEVEN!!!). It is the idea that this obsession with putting kids in sports early and often is something the family has to do because that is the only way they are going to pay for the kid to go to college. Let me take a moment to shed some light on the logic of this, lest I go crazy next time I hear a parent say it.
1. If you took all the money you pay in fees, uniforms, equipment, travel, and camps and put it into an investment account instead, by the time the child graduates from high school, you will have far more money to pay for their college than the average sports scholarship gives, not to mention you will have all the time that you would have spent with the sports to spend doing whatever else you wanted.
2. Yes, you are a parent and you love your kid and think they are the greatest, but the probability that they will become a good enough player to get those scholarships or even still like sports in high school is so low that it's not a smart to bank your child's entire education on something that improbable.
3. There are these things called college loans. It never hurt a kid to pay for their own education. In fact, it may cause them to take college all the more seriously.
4. What kind of pressure are you putting on your child if they overhear you say something like that? Does your five year old really need that weight on their shoulders? Do they really need to be worried about playing sports well enough that it can pay for their college? Let your kids be kids. You're a Christian, darn it! God will provide what needs to be provided for!
Once again, I want to say, there is nothing wrong with playing sports or watching them on TV or even being a sports enthusiast. But our culture has made "worshiping the almighty sports god" so socially acceptable and even in some circles, a social requirement, that we as Christians need to guard our hearts and minds against this potential false idol. Picture your life without sports. Now picture your life without God. Which was easier for you to do? Which picture did you enjoy more? Make sure what is most important is most important.